Why a university application deadline shouldn’t freak out students

Ontario’s university applications centre expects 90,000 applications by tonight’s midnight deadline. But it might not be your last chance to apply for your favourite program
Students working on their computers at Laurentian University. (Photograph by Nick Iwanyshyn)
Students working on their computers at Laurentian University. (Photograph by Nick Iwanyshyn)
Students working on their computers at Laurentian University. (Photograph by Nick Iwanyshyn)

Ontario high school students—and their parents, no doubt—know what today is: It’s Deadline Day, the last few hours where procrastinating students frantically try to get their university applications in under the wire. For competitive programs with limited enrolment and lots of interest, they have until midnight to submit online applications. But don’t fret: The Jan. 11 deadline is important, but not necessarily your last chance. We got the inside scoop from Deanna Underwood, manager of communications at the Ontario Universities’ Application Centre, who has observed the last-minute madness for the past 20 years. (Here’s the emergency FAQ the OUAC posted today for anyone who has questions at the eleventh hour.)

Q: So first things first: Just how many applicants are you expecting by midnight tonight?

A: This year, we’re expecting close to 90,000 students to apply—all electronically. Lots of those happen throughout the year; there are people who apply much earlier and people who finish a semester early. I don’t have the numbers, but many will leave it to the last minute. The team is working really hard to serve those people, so that’s the focus right now.

Q: Your office must be pretty chaotic!

A: Actually, when people come in, they’re amazed at how calm we are. This organization has been around for 45 years, so it’s a well-oiled machine. We know it’s all hands on deck for this deadline, so right now there are an extra dozen people on phones and email, and they’ve shifted their hours so they can be on the phone during the hours the students are applying.

Q: And yet the lines are still so busy!

A: Right now that’s very normal, and it’s mostly just questions. We can’t give university-specific info, but we can definitely help them with the application process itself. For lots of these kids, this is the first big decision they have to make, so that’s why they have a lot of questions. We compiled the top ten questions on the website, so definitely check out the site if you can’t get through.

Q: Did going electronic simplify the application process? Did it worsen procrastinating?

A: Nope! Years ago, the medical school application would be on a 3.5 inch diskette, mailed in, and yet it was the exact same thing. People would be in car accidents on the way to drop it off, they’d be running in for a 4:30 deadline. I remember one year there was a young girl and her dad who stood at our front desk for hours trying to decide on her program. Those were the old days and now it’s all done online, which is different but has its own challenges.

Q: Like a website crash?!

A: Luckily, the system’s holding up really well. Your school has already sent in your grades, English language test and communities hours—all are pre-loaded and very secure. It’s not like Amazon where you just sign in; you need your log-in information. So a challenge might be forgetting your log-in code in your locker over the Christmas holidays. But you’re in luck this year; the deadline is two days after school re-starts.

Q: Is procrastination a student-specific problem?

A: Absolutely not. It’s human nature, just look at the number of people who wait and submit their taxes the night before. Obviously this is our largest cohort, but throughout the year we have many deadline like med school and law school. You don’t want to know that your doctor waited to the very last minute to apply to medical school, but they’re all the same.

Q: Are stragglers completely out of luck?

A: It depends. For anything super competitive or with limited enrolment, today is the deadline. For the rest, while today at midnight is the recommended deadline, we will continue to answer calls and emails and process applications after that date. Feb 3rd is the date that you need to make sure your grades are in and submit your payment, that is what the universities call “the equal opportunity date.” Until then, there are certainly some options.

Q: Any parting advice for anyone who’s flipping out right now?

A: Ontario applicants are so lucky with many opportunities and options, and there’s a program out there for everyone who wants one. All the universities respond by the end of May, then at the beginning of June we open another website that shows any additional programs that still have spaces. Anyone who hasn’t found their spot yet can go there and find their place.